DLR’s CERB Sides with SSU on Furloughs

Dear MSCA Librarians and Faculty,

I write with an unfortunate update regarding President Keenan’s implementation of furloughs for MSCA librarians and full-time faculty at Salem State University (SSU).  On May 20, 2021, MTA Attorney Laurie Houle informed me that the Department of Labor Relation’s (DLR) Commonwealth Employee Relations Board (CERB) upheld the hearing officer’s dismissal of our charge regarding unilateral implementation of furloughs.

The MSCA has thirty days to decide if we wish to institute proceedings for judicial review in the Appeals Court.  SSU Chapter President Tiffany Chenault, SSU Board Director Amy Smith and I will discuss the decision further after Laurie analyzes the decision and before the MSCA decides whether to appeal the CERB decision.

It is worth reminding you that the DLR makes a legal determination – whether the collective bargaining law (Chapter 150E) is violated – not on whether SSU had a financial need to furlough employees.

The MSCA believed in June 2020 that there was no financial need to furlough SSU employees.  As SSU now has (we estimate) a roughly $25 million surplus for the year, the MSCA’s belief was correct in June 2020; there is no need to furlough SSU employees.

In fact, President Keenan has lifted the hiring freeze, even while his administration continues to threaten future retrenchments.  Who is going to apply for a position at a university that has implemented furloughs and that continues to threaten future retrenchments?

MTA’s legal arguments at the DLR were sound and Tiffany’s and Amy’s contributions were important, particularly by pointing out that they had told Kennan to put furloughs on main table negotiations that were ongoing.

The CERB states that, “At no point prior to the completion of main table bargaining did O’Donnell state or suggest that the appropriate place to raise the furlough proposal was at ongoing successor contract negotiations.”

In a footnote the CERB states “Thus, although the MSCA presented information that the Chapter leaders asked Keenan why a second furlough proposal could not be submitted as part of main table negotiations, this was not sufficient to overcome the SSU’s reasonable belief that the MSCA declined to bargain over furloughs.”

We do not believe SSU had a reasonable belief that the MSCA declined to bargain furloughs.  Chapter leadership indicated, repeatedly, that furloughs should be negotiated at ongoing main table negotiations.

The MSCA Board, twice, rejected side-table negotiations.  Keenan claims that the union should have put furloughs on the main table.  Seriously?  The MSCA Bargaining Committee is the only entity authorized by the MSCA Constitution to bargain on behalf of librarians and faculty.  The Bargaining Committee – rightfully so – did not put anti-employee language (furloughs) on the table.  It should not surprise you that our team also did not propose pay cuts, elimination of academic freedom, the abolition of tenure, or any number of anti-labor proposals.  Telling a union to propose furloughing its own member?  Union busting, plain and simple.  As is Keenan’s decision to furlough librarians and faculty, again this week, while sitting on a pile of money and continuing to threaten future retrenchments.

So I stand by the MSCA Board of Director’s decision not to agree to negotiate five our weeks of furloughs (that was SSU’s proposal at the time) at a side table with no ability to mitigate the pay cut, mitigation that would be available at the main table.

I stand by SSU’s chapter leadership for pushing Keenan to wait and see if furloughs were financially necessary – again, we see they were not.

I stand by the Day Bargaining Committee’s decision not to propose furloughing our own members, as it would have provided an opportunity for other state university presidents to join Keenan’s frenzied need to furlough employees – as at least two other state university presidents were considering at the time.

I will let you know when the MSCA has made a final decision on whether to appeal, but in the meantime, Keenan will continue his union-busting efforts and work to divide us.  I appreciate the discipline it takes not to allow that to happen.

CJ O’Donnell
MSCA President